18You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. 19For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. 20They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
22No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. 23You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. 24You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
25Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain. 28Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29For our God is a devouring fire.Hebrews 12:18-29
Do you see why I sectioned this final portion of Chapter 12 as I did? The passage divides nicely into three segments. Did you see the contrast between what they haven’t come to and what they have come to? There is a stark Negative (-ve) and Positive (+ve) way the writer has arranged his thoughts and his summary. It is a brilliant way to sum up his argument and to remind the Jewish followers of Christ what they have that the Israelites didn’t and the implications of what must be their inevitable conclusion.
You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai.Hebrews 12:18
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering.Hebrews 12:22
Note what the author of Hebrews was saying in the comparisons he drew.
- a physical mountain
- a place of flaming fire
- darkness, gloom and whirlwind
- where they heard an awesome trumpet blast
- and heard a voice so terrible they begged God to stop speaking
- where they staggered back under God’s command
- an untouchable mountain where even animals that touched it must be stoned
- where Moses himself was so frightened, he was terrified and trembling.
- the city of the Living God / the heavenly Jerusalem
- the eternal destination of all believers
- to dwelling place of countless thousands of angels joyfully gathering
- to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven
- to God Himself, the Judge of all
- to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven, now been made perfect
- to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant
- to the sprinkled blood far better than Abel’s
These two mountains are symbolic and contrastive of so much. Yet the lists are not balanced in contrastive pairs which we might expect. The author could have set the comparisons in distinct contrastive pairs.
- a physical mountain vs a spiritual mountain
- a flaming fire vs a place of light
- darkness gloom and whirlwind vs glorious daylight and tranquility
and so on . . . but he didn’t. Yet still the lists are tellingly contrastive and filled with significance.
I am not convinced that the writer meant what is recorded in the NLT, the first of the translations I gave you in Gem 2167, and the translation I have used in this Gem. A voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking – written in 12:19. The literal words used in Greek render the expression as “a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.” Take note of what is recorded in Exodus 20.
All the people, experiencing the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blast and the smoking mountain, were afraid—they pulled back and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we’ll listen, but don’t have God speak to us or we’ll die.” Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. God has come to test you and instill a deep and reverent awe within you so that you won’t sin.” The people kept their distance while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. GOD said to Moses, “Give this Message to the People of Israel: ‘You’ve experienced firsthand how I spoke with you from Heaven.Exodus 20:18-22
It is clear that both things happened. The people heard the terrifying voice of God and from then on begged Moses to be the go-between. They did indeed hear the terrifying voice of God on Sinai. But they also heard the voice on Moses on Sinai, relaying to them the Words which God had given to Moses. Notice then what the author records for us in verse 25 of Hebrews 12.
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!Hebrews 12:25
Remember he has taken great pains to demonstrate how Jesus is so much greater than Moses and all the prophets. Not only that, but greater too than all other intermediaries, all systems, priesthoods, covenants and tabernacles. Now allow me to point out one more detail of what the author of the letter has written then I will leave you again to ponder the depth of what he has written before we look further.
Notice the last bullet point in the Zion list. “To the sprinkled blood far better than Abel’s”
and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel. NLT
and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. NASB
And Jesus is here! He is the one who makes God’s new agreement with us, and his sprinkled blood says much better things than the blood of Abel. CEV
You have come to the sprinkled blood that tells us about better things than the blood of Abel. ERV
I won’t belabour the point but most translations have rendered the expression in Greek as “You have come to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant and to the blood.” That is you have come to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant and you have come to the blood of Jesus which is far greater that the blood of Abel. In Zion are Jesus and Jesus’ blood. Why is Jesus’ blood in Zion, the heavenly city? Because that is where the blood was placed in the Heavenly Tabernacle.
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.Hebrews 4:14
And in another passage God said to him, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”Hebrews 5:6
Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honour beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands.Hebrews 8:1-2
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.Hebrews 9:11-12
For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal.Hebrews 9:24-25
Are you getting the message? The Blood of Jesus is always and forever on the mercy seat of the Tabernacle in Zion. That is why the author of Hebrews wrote “You have come to the blood that speaks of forgiveness and not vengeance like the blood of Abel.” You will come to the blood of Jesus on the mercy seat in the heavenly Tabernacle in Zion and to the multitude of God’s children whose names are written in heaven and now made perfect. But do you notice the writer has not written “you will come”; rather he wrote “you have come”? Oh yes there is still much more to unpack yet. That is why I have decided to leave it at this point for now.
I will pause again and send the following Gem on Saturday or Monday to give you time to take it all in and ask any questions you may have. There are some parts of this text before which the experts debate. There is considerable depth in this passage. After all, I believe this is the pinnacle of the author’s argument and the climax of his closing comments as I wrote in the last Gem. Take the time given to ponder it some more as I will be doing.
Live to the max what is, let go of what was and have faith in what will be.Sonia Ricotti
The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.Ann Lamott
May the size of your prayers and your faith to hold on, lead you to belief in a God who is so much greater than ever you could ask or imagine.Ian
Life is a circle of happiness, sadness, hard times and good times. If you’re going through hard times, have faith that good times are on the way.Helen Steiner Rice